Garden Looms

Garden Looms façade. Image provided by Murray Rosenberg & family

735 & 737 North 2nd Street (just north of Fairmount)

Philadelphia was a hub of garment production—from woolen mills to military garb and from Stetson hats to the piecework of immigrant Italian and Jewish immigrant women. Garden Looms was a family business founded by Ben Stein before World War II and was originally called Earle Mills Inc. After returning from the U. S. Navy in 1946, Stein's nephew Harold Rosenberg joined on, eventually working his way up to production manager and buying the business from his uncle in 1965. Renamed Garden Looms, this shop was the last small manufacturer—35 employees at the most—of women's lingerie in Philadelphia. Garden Looms closed in 1985 and was developed by the Northern Liberties Community Development Corporation in the late 1990s as artists' studios and apartments.

Garden Looms supplied large department stores like Lit Bros., Gimbel's, Wanamakers, and S&H Klein, as well as small neighborhood lingerie shops. Garden Looms also sold to "jobbers"—middlemen who sold to other customers. The third floor was the cutting room, where sewing patterns were imprinted on 54-inch wide paper, and large bundles of fabric were cut into garment segments. Those were transported down to the second floor, where the small sewing staff created women's undergarments and slips on Singer sewing machines.

By the time Garden Looms closed, the staff was primarily African American and Latino. Before shuttering the shop, Harold Rosenberg noted that in the changing retail economy, Garden Looms was "too small to be big, too big to be small." They couldn't meet the volume of large department stores anymore, and the small, local lingerie shops and jobbers were a thing of the past.